Zoya Akhtar loves poetry.
That was the first thought I got after watching Gully Boy. It left me awestruck just wondering about the ease with which Zoya would juxtapose complex thoughts, deep emotions and building rage — all clouded in stoic silence. And all through poetry that sounds like a hum in the background of it all, telling the audience what’s going on in Murad’s (Ranveer Singh) mind.
It happens multiple times in the film. An occurrence that reminds me a lot about her previous film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Remember the beautiful poems written by Javed Akhtar, recited by Farhan Akhtar, in several phases of the movie? They depicted just what was brewing in the minds of the three leads, what they were going through in the middle of their travel, in the middle of the silences that surrounded their mind and heart, and ultimately brought the viewers closer to the characters.
She brings about a similar vibe through Murad. One particular scene that stands out is when Murad is driving and the owner of the car is sitting in the passenger’s seat, crying. He wants to help her, ask her what’s wrong, but he doesn’t say a word because of the distance between their statuses. And Doori is, very skillfully, recited in the background to present the turmoil going inside his head. As you get to listen to his thoughts loud and clear, you start feeling as if you know him, and then you don’t even realize when, all of a sudden, you are rooting for him.
That’s what Zoya did with this film, and probably all her other films. She brought out the nuances of a character in a way that narration would look like communication.
Now look at the following lyrics from Murad’s song that he wrote when he was constantly being questioned for his ‘unrealistic’ dreams and his aukaat (status):
“Gaad do, beej hoon main ped ban hi jaunga
Dil tha toota tab Hip-Hop mere saath tha
Ujaale milne mein mujhe
Haan raat ka hi haath tha”
Now think about it. For those who don’t follow the music, Bollywood has grilled into our minds that rap and hip-hop was equivalent to Badshah, Honey Singh and, to an extent, Baba Sehgal. But to bring out lyrics like that from young artistes and redefining, rather re-introducing the asli hip-hop scene somewhere hidden in the shadows of the country, Zoya pulled off the unthinkable. This was nothing but poetry, with a rhythm and a beat. And who would’ve known?
Of course the credit goes to the musicians, the lyricist and everyone belonging to the film, but this movie wouldn’t have been what it was if not for Zoya’s vision. She contained Ranveer’s immense energy, and history has it that whenever you do that, you strike gold. Look at Lootera, for example, when the then highly underrated but restrained Ranveer — for the first time in his career — showed the depth he had as an actor back in 2013.
Similarly as Murad, Zoya makes him bring what is probably his career-best performance by investing all his energy in displaying the passion for his art through all the scenes where he’s performing or learning to perform. In every other scene, he is the opposite – quiet, restrained and troubled in his own way. He is Murad at home, and Gully Boy on stage. And the distinction is clear because of this masterstroke.
I remember when Zoya was called an elitist because of her previous movies, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Dil Dhadakne Do. While they were both critically and commercially acclaimed, a lot of people complained that she would only focus on rich people and their problems. What they had forgotten back then that this was the director whose first movie was Luck By Chance — a solid film that portrayed the hardships of a struggling actor. With Gully Boy now, she has, very subtly, shut down all her critics.
Is this her best work? It’s hard to tell, honestly. A part of me tells me that there’s more to come. Having watched all her films, and the way she has only become better and better with time, a part of me tells me that Zoya’s best is yet to come. The way she has presented so many varied characters in different paths of life in her (only) 10 years in the industry, her talent has now found wings like never before.
Her time is here. Her time is now. *mic drop*